Savings Expert: Airline Baggage Fees are Here to Stay: How to Minimize the Damage

Airline Baggage Fees are Here to Stay: How to Minimize the Damage

By Amy Suardi of

Just when we finally got used to having to pay the airlines to bring our suitcases along, they are increasing the baggage charge.

With the summer travel season upon us, it’s a good time to remember the newest hassles in the air travel industry.

Continental Airlines announced earlier this year that it will be raising its baggage fees to match Delta’s new higher baggage rates. The new rates are:

First bag: $23 (paid online) or $25 (paid at the airport)
Second bag: $32 (paid online) or $35 (at the airport)

Assuming that the supposedly temporary baggage fees are here to stay, here are things I’ll keep in mind next time we fly within the 50 states. (Thankfully, most international carriers still allow one to two bags free.)

Check the airline’s baggage allowance well in advance of your trip.

This CNN article lists some of the latest, but since fees are changing, check the airline’s policy on their website. (A Google search for “baggage allowance” recently brought up a list of the most popular airline’s pages on this policy.)

Think ahead about how you can pack less or how you can find some items you need on the other end.

For example, if there are laundry facilities at your destination, pack half what you need and wash mid-trip.

Instead of giving them away, my parents keep bulky items like old tennis shoes, thick robes, and big sweaters to ease our double schlep when we visit them. They also were kind enough to invest in baby gear like car seats, boosters, strollers, and changing mats. Of course we always find a new package of diapers and wipes, bath soap and toys when we get there.

When traveling without children, use a carry-on suitcase.

However, be forewarned. My friend, Lynn, recently sent out this email, furious about the charges she still had to pay with a carry-on suitcase:

I have been hassled by US Air and United airlines this weekend about my carry-on bag (which I have carried on without difficulty and which easily fits in the overhead compartment for the last 6 years). The bag is not even full. They have cut down the size limitations so it is 3 inches too big (cumulatively – adding height, length and width), so they can charge me $25 ($20 on United) to check it. The gate agent (after we had to change flights and airlines) actually took out a measuring tape and measured it. I am really furious.

CNN says here that “the airlines reported collecting nearly $740 million in baggage fees in the third quarter of 2009, according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.”

Enlist your children for help.

If you are traveling with small children (and thus lots of gear), a carry-on suitcase is not a welcome addition to the mix.

However, if you have slightly older children, they will probably be quite happy to help by carrying some of the extras, like toys and snacks, in their own backpacks.

Check-in online.

With some airlines, at least you can save a couple dollars on baggage fees. If you buy tickets online (my favorite travel search site is Kayak), airlines usually send you a reminder by email to check-in online.

Try Southwest or JetBlue.

If the baggage fees are really getting you down, see if your route is served by Southwest, which charges no fees, or by JetBlue, which only charges for the second bag ($30). (Be aware that Southwest might not be the discount airline that it used to be. A Frugal Mama reader reports that prices can be significantly higher than major lines.)

Bring your own food.

Airplane food is now just like airport food: (mostly) unhealthy and overpriced. Most airlines will charge you now for what they used to hand out as a courtesy for harried travelers.

Because liquids are not allowed (besides amounts under 4 oz. of medicine or baby milk), don’t bring yogurt or juice boxes. Do bring empty water bottles and fill them up once you pass security.

And don’t even count on the tiny bag of salty snacks and a Coke on board. The last time we flew US Airways, everyone got served the same beverage: a glass of water!

Do you have any baggage fee tips to share?

Amy Suardi writes about saving money & making life better at Frugal Mama.